Voyage of the Odyssey Voice from the Sea
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The Odyssey is currently anchored outside of Male in the Maldives.
Photo : Chris Johnson

February 4, 2004
Return to the Maldives

Log Transcript

Two weeks ago, the Odyssey sailed out of Port Louis harbor in Mauritius for the final time and with some reluctance. Our time working with sperm whales there was a success beyond our greatest expectations. Often, we survey the waters of a country with little idea of what we may find. This is particularly true of oceanic island nations in the Indian Ocean where little cetacean research has been conducted. With our bow pointed north and over 2,000 nautical miles ahead, we set a course back to the Maldives.

The crew enjoys long oceanic passages. We never quite know what to expect or what creatures we may encounter on our journey. In the past we have enjoyed humpback whales hitching a ride on our bow wave, large groups of sperm whales and schools of dolphins numbering in the thousands.

We sailed north at an average speed of 6 knots in a bid to reach equatorial waters and refuge from any developing cyclones. After 9 days we reached the equator, crossing it for the twentieth time on the voyage so far. Verity, our newest and youngest crewmember, is the only one onboard yet to have paid her respects to King Neptune. King Neptune is the chief sea God of classical mythology. Early mariners believed those crossing the equator by sea for the first time must pay their respects to King Neptune and he in turn will provide safe passage. Many sailing vessels including the Odyssey crew practice this ritual in a token form today. We took the opportunity to engage unsuspecting Verity in the ceremonial process of becoming a member of the royal order of 'shellbacks', A 'shellback' is the name given to someone who has made an equatorial crossing at sea.

An injured sooty tern rests on the aft deck of the Odyssey.
Photo : Verity Steptoe

Intermittent visits from oceanic dolphins helped the miles pass by swiftly. Our most spectacular encounters occurred at night when bow-riding dolphins raced by in a dazzling cloud of phosphorescent light. Often, it was not possible to see the animals themselves, only a glowing outline of their bodies, crossing back and forth with a turbulent stream of light in their wake.

During oceanic passages, we often trawl a lure in an attempt to catch fish. However, on this passage, the majority of fish caught actually landed themselves without any assistance from the crew. Nine flying fish flew on deck one evening in a desperate attempt to escape the pursuing dolphins. They may have escaped the dolphins, but met a more miserable fate by suffocating in the scuppers or flying head long into the steel walls of the pilot house and salon.

Feeding frenzies are also a familiar sight in open-ocean. Plankton blooms attract bait fish, which in turn attract larger pelagic species. Legions of squawking seabirds alerted us to the drama unfolding beneath the waves. These fleeting interactions are always our best chance of catching a meal of fish. Early one morning we caught a three foot long dorado (also known as a dolphin fish) - a beautiful green and yellow pelagic fish species. We catch fish for food as well as for our science program. Several biopsies are taken from each pelagic fish caught. These samples are analyzed for levels of persistent organic pollutants in addition to the tissue samples collected from sperm whales.

A few days before reaching the Maldives, we sighted a group of feeding birds in the distance. It was decided we should try for another fish. The sheer number of birds was breathtaking and was made up of sooty terns, pectorals and brown noddy's. Several hours later we noticed movement along the port deck walkway. It was a sooty tern and it was injured. It may have flown into the sail or hit part of the rigging, whatever the cause, the little bird is still with us and has become a much-loved crewmember.

During the passage, some of the sunsets were spectacular.
Photo : Verity Steptoe

We arrived a couple of days ago and are currently anchored off Male - the Maldives capitol. It is nice to return to a familiar place, greeting old friends and re-visiting favorite places. We are awaiting the arrival of Dr. Roger Payne, who will be joining us offshore for the month of February. Our previous research in the Maldives was based primarily around sperm whales. This time we are here in search of a more elusive group of toothed whales known as beaked whales. Little is known about the life history and ecology of most species of beaked whale. It is our intention to use a specially designed underwater microphone (an acoustic array) to record the sounds made by these animals. We have chosen to undertake our research in the Maldives as it is known to be one of the best places in the world to find beaked whales.

We are all looking forward to our next research leg with Dr. Roger Payne and learning more about the whales around the Maldives so stay tuned.


Log written by Genevieve Johnson.

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